Sports

‘Lovely, generous man’: Cup jockey’s tribute to tragic Leicester owner

English jockey Jim Crowley has described Leicester City chairman and emerging racehorse owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha as a "lovely and generous man" in an emotional tribute before his first Melbourne Cup ride.

Crowley, who combined with the Thai billionaire's best horse Beat The Bank less than two weeks ago, jetted into Australia this week in preparation to ride Muntahaa in the Melbourne Cup.

But it comes as the former champion British flat jockey, 32, grapples with the death of Srivaddhanaprabha and four others after their helicopter crashed and burst into flames moments after taking off from Leicester's King Power Stadium last weekend.

Winning team: Jim Crowley, Beat The Bank and owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha after winning the Sir Henry Cecil Stakes at Newmarket in July.

Winning team: Jim Crowley, Beat The Bank and owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha after winning the Sir Henry Cecil Stakes at Newmarket in July.Credit:Rex

Srivaddhanaprabha had loomed as a major player in the British thoroughbred industry after spending tens of millions of dollars investing in a string of horses which raced under the King Power banner. They were spread across seven different trainers.

Advertisement

His most decorated horse was five-time group winner Beat The Bank, which Crowley rode when he finished down the track behind Roaring Lion in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Champions Day at Royal Ascot just last month.

Crowley also rode Beat The Bank to victory in the Sir Henry Cecil Stakes at Newmarket last year.

He was a lovely man and a very generous man. He loved his racing, he loved his horses and it was a real shock to everybody

Jim Crowley

"It's horrendous," Crowley said. "Absolutely horrendous. He was a lovely man and a very generous man. He loved his racing, he loved his horses and it was a real shock to everybody, moreso his family and the industry. It's really sad.

"I think Beat The Bank was one of his first pattern race winners. He was so happy that day. It's terrible he's left behind a young family. [Trainer] Andrew [Balding] got on very well with him and I'm sure he's quite upset about it."

Srivaddhanaprabha was a regular visitor to the low-profile racecourse in Leicester and was famously known for bankrolling the city's football team, which were shock Premier League champions in 2015-16 after they started the season as 5000-1 outsiders.

Salute: Crowley wins the Ebor Handicap aboard Muntahaa in August. The pair will team up again in Tuesaday's Melbourne Cup.

Salute: Crowley wins the Ebor Handicap aboard Muntahaa in August. The pair will team up again in Tuesaday's Melbourne Cup.Credit:PA

He had shown a passion for racing and sent most of his horses to the yard of Andrew Balding, who on Wednesday was forced to withdraw Duretto from the Melbourne Cup with a stress fracture in his left foreleg.

Srivaddhanaprabha's blue and white colours were carried to victory in races at Newbury and Doncaster hours before his death, which prompted leading British trainers to describe him as "completely captivated" with the industry.

The John Gosden-trained Muntahaa shapes as one of Europe's best hopes of pilfering the Melbourne Cup for a second straight year and the grey's jockey even forfeited rides at the Breeders' Cup meeting to head to Australia early.

"I didn't want to be jumping off a plane straight from America feeling jetlagged and terrible," said Crowley, who is the retained jockey for Shadwell Stud and rode two winners at Bendigo on Wednesday.

"It was hard because we have a runner in the Breeders' Cup, but you don't get many opportunities to have a crack at a Melbourne Cup and hence why I came down here early.

"It's a race that personally I've always watched as a child growing up and it's fascinated me because it's such a difficult race to win. I think that's what makes it more appealing. It's the race that stops a nation.

"To go to another country and win on someone else's turf is always really hard, and sometimes a bit more special."

Crowley has picked the brains of former Melbourne Cup-winning rider Gerald Mosse, who steered Americain to success in 2010.

Ebor winner Muntahaa was on the fourth line with BetEasy on Thursday, sharing the $13 quote with Avilius behind dominant favourite Yucatan ($4.50).

"Before he was gelded he was a real handful," Crowley said of Muntahaa. "They obviously gelded him now and his mindset has changed in a big way. On Ebor day there was a lot of hustle and bustle and he was brilliant.

"It's going to be on another level Melbourne Cup day, but we're hoping he will be on his A-game."

Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.